ZCBlog: Winds of Change

 

Electricity production from wind power in the UK has increased dramatically over the last few years, as this graph shows.

Plotted using National Grid data, it shows the proportion of UK electricity that is produced by wind turbines, from early 2009 to March 2013. The daily values appear chaotic as wind power output fluctuates between windy and calm days. But the 90 day rolling average shows a clear upwards trend, and this is at least partially due to the completion of a few very large offshore wind farms: September 2012 saw the completion of the Greater Gabbard wind farm off the coast of Suffolk with a 504 MW maximum output. It was the world’s largest wind farm – but only until early April 2013, when the last one of 175  turbines at the London Array (Phase I) offshore wind farm in the Thames Estuary was connected, bringing that wind farm to the top of the global league table with 630 MW.

Research carried out by CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research team (to be published later this year) shows that offshore wind power has the potential to be the ‘work horse’ of a renewably powered future energy scenario, producing nearly half of our energy. So these recent developments are certainly steps in the right direction!

ZCBlog: Catalysing the shift we need

As we press ahead with our new Zero Carbon Britain research, we are all motivated by the clear evidence that our climate and energy challenges have not gone away, and in many ways they are getting worse. AT ZCB we are keen to explore new drivers that can help Britain rise to that challenge – and one of the most interesting areas of work is in the development of Tradable Energy Quotas, or ‘TEQs‘ for short. In line with this, the new Zero Carbon Britain report will include a section suggesting and evaluating policies such as TEQs, cap and share, emissions trading schemes and carbon taxes that might be used to achieve a zero carbon future.

Currently, our Government has over one hundred policies that impact on emissions. Yet it has produced, in the words of Parliament’s own Environmental Audit Committee, “a confusing framework that cannot be said to promote effective action on climate change.”

We desperately need a clear, focused framework for reducing emissions in the kindest, fairest way possible. This is what TEQs offer – to unleash grassroots invention and collaboration, to make energy use a visible in people’s lives and to generate a common purpose in addressing these challenges.

“If I weren’t working at CAT I’d go and work with Shaun [Chamberlain]”, says ZCB’s Paul Allen, “he’s doing really inspirational things with TEQs and The Lean Economy Connection”.

The TEQs Board is currently looking for two interns to help research how TEQs can help deliver a radical change in UK energy policy. They describe their work as “a way to address social injustice, climate change and fuel depletion that is politically achievable” – check out the description below to learn more!

 

TEQ Internships

We are currently seeking two interns to help move TEQs forward towards implementing a radical change in UK energy policy.  Although we cannot offer payment for this at the moment, there may be the possibility the role could progress in the future.

TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas) is an electronic energy rationing system designed to be implemented at the national scale. There are two main reasons why TEQs are needed:

1) Climate change: to guarantee achieving national carbon reduction targets.

2) Energy supply: to maintain a fair distribution of fuel and electricity during shortages.

Currently, the UK government has over one hundred policies that impact on emissions levels yet it has produced, in the words of Parliament’s own Environmental Audit Committee, “a confusing framework that cannot be said to promote effective action on climate change.”  Accordingly, nobody currently expects us to meet those legally binding Climate Change Act emissions targets.

We desperately need a clear, focused framework for reducing emissions in the kindest, fairest way possible, and this is what TEQs provides for a nation – a context created to unleash grassroots invention and collaboration across sectors; a context designed to make energy use a real, visible thing in people’s lives; and a context built with the express purpose of generating that elusive thing, common purpose, in addressing our key collective challenges.

At the heart of the TEQs scheme are two things:

1)    The need to respect the non-negotiable limits set by the physical realities of climate change and fuel depletion.

2)    A recognition that if our society is to thrive within any sufficiently tight cap on emissions, it needs to dramatically change its relationship with energy, and that this change can only be driven from the bottom-up.

The principle underpinning TEQs was put perfectly by the late David Fleming, the founder of TEQs:

“Large scale problems do not require large-scale solutions – they require small-scale solutions within a large-scale framework.”

While it is tempting to think of a tightening global cap on emissions as a solution in itself, such a cap is worthless without on-the-ground solutions at the local and individual level – and TEQs facilitates this action in a way that is meaningful to everyone.

TEQs have won supporters from all the main political parties. The UK government funded a pre-feasibility study into the scheme (2008) and 2011 saw an All-Party Parliamentary report in support of TEQs, with extensive international media coverage.  After fifteen years of political and academic study of the scheme, the intellectual argument had been won.

However we now need a campaign to put climate and energy front-and-centre again in the public and political consciousness, and to press for the answer to one simple question:  Given that implementing TEQs simply guarantees that the legally-binding targets set by the Climate Change Act are achieved, are we, or are we not, going to respect climate science and UK law?

If you are interested in applying for an internship, or discussing further details on what the role might involve, please contact Shaun Chamberlin at shaun@teqs.net

 

CAT pioneers reunite for BBC Radio 4 broadcast as 40th anniversary approaches

 

Five early pioneers of the Centre for Alternative Technology were reunited on Sunday 28th April for BBC Radio 4’s The Reunion. Hosted by Sue MacGregor, The Reunion takes a weekly look at significant events and moments in history by reuniting the people who made them happen. Past programmes include the first years of Doctor Who, the 1948 Olympics, and the founders of Comic Relief.

On April 28th it was the Centre for Alternative Technology’s turn, as Sue brings together CAT’s first Technical Director Bob Todd, and his wife Liz, CAT’s first and second Directors Mark Mathews and Rod James, and Pembrokeshire builder Des Rees, who wanted to have an adventure in the Sahara, and found himself working in a damp slate quarry in mid-Wales instead! There will also be recordings of now-deceased founder Gerard Morgan-Grenville, leading environmentalist Jonathon Porritt and long-term staff member Peter Harper, who first coined the term ‘alternative technology’.

In November 1973 CAT founder Gerard Morgan-Grenville signed a lease on a disused quarry owned by Old-Etonian school friend John Beaumont. On it he planned to build ‘The Village of the Future’. The National Centre for Alternative Technology was to be powered by renewable energy, fed with organic produce and run under co-operative principles.

The Centre defied conventional approaches to energy and food production, developed innovative technologies and spawned hundreds of like-minded projects and enterprises across the globe. The first ‘pioneers’ moved on-site in 1974, and CAT will be celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2014.

The Reunion will also use interviews collected via CAT’s Oral History Project, which was funded by GLASU and organised by Allan Shepherd.

“With CAT’s 40th anniversary coming up in 2014 we’ve been preparing an archive of written, oral and photographic stories about the Centre’s history, some of which will now feature in The Reunion,” explains Allan.

“The whole archive will be kept in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and will be launched as part of a series of events and activities we have planned for CAT’s 40th anniversary in 2014. The Centre has played a part in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, as well as making a big impact on environmental thinking. The Reunion recognises this, and the programme is a fitting tribute to CAT’s history.”

The Reunion is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 28th April at 11.15 and May 3rd at 9am, and is also available online.

Contact allan.shepherd@cat.org.uk for more information about the CAT Oral History Project, archive or 40th anniversary celebrations; and kim.bryan@cat.org.uk for CAT media enquiries.

BBC Radio 4 will also be bringing Any Questions to CAT on June 7th. Any Questions is a question and answer broadcast featuring a live studio audience and a panel of politicians from all major parties. It will be broadcast from the WISE building at CAT, and CAT will be looking for a live audience closer to the time. Contact kim.bryan@cat.org.uk for more information.

 

Carbon Omissions: why we need to start talking about consumption

 

Elena Blackmore, a Project Officer at the Public Interest Research Centre, writes about the Carbon Omissions event in London two weeks ago.

If our carbon emissions are falling, it means we’re on the right track, right? And we’ve done it without needing to drastically change our economics (or even our lifestyles). But what if our accounting systems are wrong?

On Tuesday of last week, the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) launched a brand new animation exposing three lies we are told consistently by our government about our emissions. The animation, produced in collaboration with leading animator Leo Murray and acclaimed journalist George Monbiot, is the culmination of a lengthy project by PIRC to ensure the UK’s emissions are properly tackled by the Government.

We currently account only for territorial emissions: those created within our own borders. This conveniently allows us to ignore the emissions associated with everything we consume that we import from elsewhere in the world. Is this such a big deal? Well, yes. It means that, whilst on paper, the UK’s carbon emissions have fallen by 19% since 1990, when measured on a consumption basis they have risen by 20%. As ex-PIRC Director Guy Shrubsole showed through Freedom of Information requests two years ago, ministers and civil servants have known about this for many years but (in a shocking show of irresponsibility) have chosen to simply ignore it.

On the panel, John Barrett of Leeds University had also crunched the numbers on whether our emissions were going up because of a burgeoning population – a favoured smoke-screen by many who don’t like to address their own consumption patterns. The Optimum Population Trust (now Population Matters) used to have a scheme whereby you could offset the emissions of your flight by paying £5 that would go towards family planning in sub-Saharan Africa. John’s conclusion? Yes, of course the number of people has an impact, but nowhere near the size of the impact of our increased consumption.

But consumption drives growth, and growth keeps us afloat, and that’s the only way we can be happy, right? Well, no. Welcome to another lie. After a certain level, increases in income have no bearing on how happy we are, as Kate Soper of London Metropolitan University discussed. Focusing on consumption and growth is not only misleading, it’s actually damaging to us and the planet. Misleading because the error margins are often bigger than the miniscule increases or decreases fixated upon by rolling news; before even getting to the fact that GDP excludes most of what we hold dear: how happy we are, how much time we have to spend with our friends, how we treat one another. As Robert F. Kennedy once said, such reductionisms “measure neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country.”

Damaging, perhaps more worryingly, because a focus on money and consumerism can actually make us less happy, less concerned about the environment, and less compassionate, because of the encouragement of materialistic and self-interested values. Research shows that these values are in direct, psychological opposition to values centred on concern for community, other people and the environment, as Tom Crompton of WWF told us on Tuesday. Encouraging consumerism is not only harming the planet through its directly destructive use of resources, it is undermining society’s concern about this damage and ability to act collectively to work against such damage.

So what can we do about it? First, maintain the pressure on our government to take our outsourced emissions into account – and start tackling consumption. Alice Bows outlined the need to not get locked into more carbon intensive energy systems such as investing in fracking. Ruth Potts and Kate Soper argued for our need to redefine our relationship with material goods: encouraging collaborative production as well as consumption. John Barrett said we should at least stop talking about GDP before finding an alternative (of which there are many existing suggestions). Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavillion, said we must bring the issues of climate and consumption back onto the political agenda. A recently launched campaign, Leave Our Kids Alone, was mentioned, and the panel were in agreement that advertising – a key component of consumer culture – must be curbed to allow our minds to be freer of clutter and anti-social values.

Audio from the event, held at Friends House Euston, will be available online from later this week. The speakers were Guy Shrubsole (Friends of the Earth), Kate Soper (London Met Uni), John Barrett (Leeds Uni), Alice Bows (Tyndall Centre, Sustainable Consumption Institute), Tom Crompton (WWF-UK), Ruth Potts (New Materialism), Caroline Lucas (MP, Green Party).

 

The Work that Reconnects: spiraling towards sustainability

 

What makes CAT special? CAT is so many things to so many people, but in the two months I’ve volunteered here every answer to this question seems to come back to those three words: inspire, inform, enable. Last Saturday these words gained new meaning for me when I went on a bit of a personal journey through ‘The Work that Reconnects,’ a workshop at CAT based on Joanna Macy’s work and superbly facilitated by Jenny Smith and Jenni Horsfall. This was an intensely personal process, and it was inspiring to see people trust each other with their vulnerabilities – so here I’ll only be talking about my own experience. But be warned, tears were definitely involved.

If you wanted a place to be introspective and thoughtful, you could hardly do better than go to the Brook Trust room in WISE. With its big bay windows and pale ash walls, it seemed to concentrate the sunlight into a calming glow.

Unlike the Douglas fir, CAT's birch trees show the rejuvenation of native flora in the quarry

From the south facing window I could see a small Douglas fir pushing its way out of the steep slate scree: a symbol of local natural triumph just as surely as it reminded me of the global wave of human-distributed non-native species. Over the course of the day I found my eyes returning to that evergreen, as if I could call forth from its needles and the surrounding landscape a message of purpose and hope.

Because let’s be clear: from the moment we started the Work that Reconnects spiral by giving gratitude, I was kind of an emotional wreck. This spiral progresses from gratitude, to honour our pain, to seeing with new eyes, to going forth. On an intellectual level I found much to admire in these phases, but in the moment something about the group’s openness smashed down my walls of rational control and paved a road from my gooey emotional centre straight to my tear ducts. Crying off and on all day was frankly exhausting, and I’m still trying to put my learning into words. But I know the workshop helped and changed me, and I’m happy to let the answers emerge organically. In the meantime, you’ll find me reading some of Macy’s books for more inspiration – and hopefully dry-eyed.

There’s much about the workshop and the Work that Reconnects that I haven’t described here, but there’s a whole network to fill you in on the details. One exercise I found particularly useful for thinking about next steps and new projects was called “the creativity cycle,” using the seasons as a metaphor for change. This sort of thinking may not be for the faint of heart, but if you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone I highly recommend it. So many of the problems facing our world – climate change, environmental destruction, poverty, disease, war and so on – are so overwhelming in their scale and awfulness it can be hard to imagine a positive future. But feelings of panic, fear and loss are nothing new, and  the Work that Reconnects reminded me that we are not alone – and that we can turn our pain into new strength.

The 13th century Persian poet Rumi wrote a poem called “Intelligence and Tears” that Jenny read out at the beginning of the workshop. Not even Rumi had all the answers, but poetry seems to me as good a place as any to begin the final part of the spiral, the ‘going forth’ into the world again:

Till the cloud weeps, how should the garden smile?
The weeping of the cloud and the burning of the sun
are the pillars of this world: twist these two strands together.
Since the searing heat of the sun and the moisture of the clouds
keep the world fresh and sweet,
keep the sun of your intelligence burning bright and your eye glistening with tears.

Musings on CAT from a new volunteer

With short-term volunteers coming to CAT for a week this May, new long-term volunteer Riccardo shares his thoughts on path-making and idealism after his first week at CAT.

Having finished moving slate gravel around site to restore the Visitor Centre paths (possibly bad for the soul, but probably beneficial for my physique), as it was teatime, two interesting things happened.  Firstly, I discovered it was half an hour till tea was due; secondly, Megan and Freya somehow persuaded me to write a blog on my first experiences at CAT, so, for the first time in 6 years, my English degree comes in handy!

It was probably inevitable that I would come here sooner or later, ever since I read about the Whole House in a 1975 book by Brenda and Robert Vale.  But the distance from Colchester always prevented me, and there were always too many things to do.  However, finally I found myself in a position where I felt no pressing need to take any houses apart to make them more energy efficient, had no work or personal commitments, and it was the middle of winter.  Why go to Machynlleth (however that was pronounced) for just a day when I could volunteer and spend a few months?

Three work days into my stay here and I am still making acquaintances, all of whom have been both friendly and keen to allow me to get to know them and the area.  There is much enthusiasm and energy to get things done in spite of various lurgies that are being passed around this winter.

The garden work I have been doing at CAT (though I was technically assigned to site maintenance) has been fantastic.  It has been a real pleasure to work with Roger, the Head Gardener, and his mix of Eastern philosophy, common sense, and pure twaddle.  And, as someone who roughly knew the basics of gardening to begin with, to meet someone who not only has a wealth of experience in gardening, but is also glad to teach others is a clear bonus. There is, after all, only so much that can be learned from a book, and I am starting to see some of the mistakes I have been making with my seedlings at home.

In spite having to cycle in 13 miles to get to work, I have had a great time so far.  While I never get out of bed eagerly, especially in winter, the day in CAT is worth the journey, even today (though I maintain my long-seated objection to gravel).

The top 5 renewable energy questions from the National Homebuilding and Renovating Show

If you went to the National Homebuilding and Renovating Show a week ago, you might have been inspired by the live demonstrations of thatching, or felt the sudden urge to redecorate when you passed the stall full of sheepskin rugs. Or perhaps you realised you really did need a 2-metre 3D TV in your lounge, or maybe you simply wanted to browse whilst enjoying an ice cream from the Yorkshire Dales food cart (it’s a permanent installation).

Nestled between two full-size timber frame houses, one of which was the Eco Home Theatre, the CAT stall was a small hub of renewable energy debate in this varied crowd. Enthused by Tobi’s daily talks, a stream of visitors made their way to us to ask often highly specific or technical questions. Some of the same concerns kept coming up, so we’ve collated a list of the five most common questions and Tobi’s answers.

Lots of people also asked us questions about architecture and design, but we’re going to save those for a later feature. Stay tuned!

  1. What’s PVT, and is it a good idea?
  2. Is there a case for thermodynamic systems?
  3. Are heat pumps right for me?
  4. Micro hydro: yes or no?
  5. Should I heat my house with biomass?

 

1. What’s PVT, and is it a good idea?

PVT is the combination of solar photovoltaic systems (the “PV”), which produce electricity, and solar thermal systems (the “T”, also known as solar water heating, SWH), which produce hot water.

In principle, you can see the potential for synergy between these technologies. PV modules convert only 10%-20% of the solar energy that falls onto them into electricity, and a good proportion of the remaining solar energy is converted into heat – solar PV get hot in the sun. So why not use this heat to heat water for showers? This is what PVT modules do – basically, they are solar PV modules put onto a solar thermal absorber. In principle, this is a brilliant idea. In practice, it’s not so easy.

Solar PV modules actually operate more efficiently when they are colder (because their electric resistance is lower) whereas for your showers you want your water to be hot. Under some conditions that works out perfectly – as long as your hot water cylinder is cold, the solar thermal part will actually cool your solar PV module down. But on a sunny summer’s day you ultimately want your solar thermal system to produce very hot water, and in fact UK legislation actually requires water to be heated to temperatures of 60-70C to kill dangerous Legionella bacteria. Ideally you’d want your solar panel to be colder than that.

You can get around this by using a heat pump to produce very hot shower water while pumping lower temperature water through your solar PVT panels. But that of course means additional expense – and much higher electricity consumption than the circulation pump of a normal solar thermal system. Also, it is worth pointing out that most PVT systems on the market today actually cost more than the combined cost of a conventional PV system and some solar thermal panels.

The Upshot: If you have enough roof space you’re probably better off installing separate solar PV and solar thermal systems.

2. Is there a case for thermodynamic systems? So-called “thermodynamic” systems (a fancy term that doesn’t really mean much) are essentially simple (unglazed) solar thermal panels connected to a heat pump. They haven’t been on the market for long enough for us to have good data, but there’s reason to be very sceptical. In the UK there simply isn’t much solar energy available in winter because days are short and the sun is low down and very often hidden behind clouds altogether.

Under those conditions, a “thermodynamic” system is essentially an air-source heat pump (ASHP) that relies on heat transfer from the ambient air to the solar panel. Manufacturers claim that the system will provide hot water at every time of the year – and that is probably true, but during dark winter days this energy is not solar energy but rather energy produced by a heat pump, which consumes a lot of electricity.

Furthermore, because the “thermodynamic” panels usually use a type of solar panel that’s less efficient than a normal (glazed) solar thermal panel, they’re probably also not a good choice during the sunnier parts of the year when a normal solar thermal system can produce hot water at a much lower electricity cost.

The Upshot: A large dose of scepticism is currently warranted when it comes to these systems. This is also reflected by the fact that their accreditation under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) has been suspended, which means you won’t get Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) income.

3. Are heat pumps right for me? The answer is “it depends”. Heat pumps use electricity to extract ambient heat (heat in the air or ground) and supply that heat into your house. Today most electricity is produced very inefficiently – for instance, our coal and gas power stations consume two or three units of fossil fuel heat energy for every unit of electricity they produce. If electricity from these inefficient power stations is used to run heat pumps, then these heat pumps need to be very efficient. Basically, your heat pump would need to supply three units of heat for every unit of electricity it consumed, otherwise you might be better off heating directly with oil or gas!

To work efficiently, heat pumps need to run at a relatively constant rate supplying heat at low temperatures. This is a realistic option for a (usually new-built) house that is well insulated and has underfloor heating with densely spaced pipes. In this case even when it is very cold outside the water in the heating system need only be lukewarm (maybe 30-35C). On the other hand, if the heat pump needs to supply much hotter water, for a badly insulated building or a building heated by radiators, then the efficiency of the heat pump will likely be too low to make it a good choice.

4. Micro hydro: yes or no? Hydropower is great, and if it benefits a whole community rather than one individual then all the better! Unfortunately, only a minority of communities in the UK have the kind of site that’s suitable for hydropower: A stream with a large flow rate of water and a good height drop. If you have a site of this type then it’s definitely worth exploring the option of installing a micro-hydro scheme.

5. Should I heat my house with biomass? Biomass can be a good choice, especially where wood can be sourced locally and/or for buildings where heat pumps would not work at high efficiency. But it’s important to stress that wood fuel is a limited resource and that there are potentially negative side effects to burning it (e.g. local air pollution from smoke, time lag between when CO2 is emitted and when a new growing tree absorbs it again). This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t burn wood, but it means we should try to use it as efficiently as possible. This means always reducing a building’s energy consumption first, and using the most efficient appliances available for burning wood. For example, modern log batch boilers (wood gasification boilers) get more heat out of the same amount of wood, and emit less smoke, than traditional wood stoves (or, even worse, open fires!).

Have a question about renewables and your home that we didn’t answer here? Check out our Home Energy Handbook, or give our Free Information Service a call!

 

ZCBlog: the Energiewende

As we write up the research for our third ZCB report on how Britain can decarbonise, it’s interesting to look around at what’s being suggested in other decarbonisation strategies. Germany, for instance, stands out for its ambitious Energiewende (‘energy transition’) that combines a phasing out of nuclear and coal power with a huge increase in renewables to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. (If you get CAT’s Clean Slate, you’ll have seen the article on Energiewende in our Spring 2013 edition.)

So far this plan has had dramatic results. For instance, in ten years Germany’s renewable electricity jumped from 6% to 25% of its total share, and about 50% of capacity is community owned.

So what lessons does this offer for the UK? Two weeks ago PRASEG, the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group, held a seminar to discuss just that.

“This is the most amazing, in both senses of the word, challenge that they’re engaged in,” said the seminar’s Chair, Tom Heap, a main presenter on Radio 4’s environmental documentary series Costing the Earth. “Whether you think it’s fantastic or somewhat flawed, it’s of great benefit for us in the UK because it’s like a live, pilot experiment. We can see how they’re getting on, and hopefully learn from the strengths and weaknesses of what they’re doing.”

ZCB’s Energy Modeller Tobi Kellner agrees: “The issues brought up in this debate are absolutely spot-on, and very similar to many of the debates we have in the ZCB energy research team. Germany is currently a few years ahead of the UK on the trajectory towards a future powered by 100% renewable energy, and in many ways their Energiewende is similar to the kind of political push that we’d like to see in this country.

From a socio-political perspective, perhaps the most interesting aspect the speakers touch on is how it happened that in Germany support for this transition spans right across the political spectrum, including German industry and conservative parties. From a technical perspective, it’s great that the speakers don’t leave out the significant challenges involved with a transition from fossil fuels to renewables. This includes the question of how variability can be balanced, and on the changing role of coal, gas and nuclear power stations in the energy system.”

PRASEG has shared recordings of this seminar on their website, and we’ve embedded them below for ease of access. Enjoy!

  • An introduction by Tom Heap (3min)

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • Rainer Baake, Germany’s State Secretary at the Federal Environment Ministry from 1998 to 2005 and current Director of the think tank Agora Energiewende (20min)

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • R Andreas Kraemer, Director and CEO of Ecologic Institute in Berlin, Spokesperson of Germany’s ecological research network Ecornet and Coordinator of the British-German Environment Forum (16min)

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Labour MP for Southampton Test, member of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee and PRASEG Chair (17min)

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • A Q&A session (1hr)

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

A week at Ecobuild shows a strong CAT community

In the face of huge numbers of exhibitors and talks competing for attention at this year’s Ecobuild, the event was a welcome reminder that CAT still offers something unique in the world of sustainable design.

Ecobuild 2013 was a massive event. With over 1,500 exhibitors, nearly 60,000 attendees, and dozens of conferences and seminars, it’s fantastic that so many visitors managed to find their way to the CAT stall. The Internet has been alive with comments about the Ecobuild experience, tweeting about everything from the need for more power sockets to a call for more humanitarian and student organisations.

This latter concern made the Centre for Alternative Technology stand out in a sea of product-oriented, for-profit stalls. Our GSE banners caught many people’s eye, and with building schematics thin on the ground elsewhere quite a few architects stopped to peruse the students’ sketches on the walls.The models were also popular, especially the bird hide!

Students, lecturers and staff generously gave their time to stand at the stall and field all sorts of questions, from the basic – “What is CAT, anyway?” – to the complex – how to become totally self-sufficient in energy, for instance, or how to find out the ratio of materials in WISE’s rammed earth walls.

“I had an interesting conversation with a woman who was really disillusioned with the trendy state of architecture education in general,” recalls Jake, a current Professional Diploma student who worked at CAT’s Ecobuild stall, “most people at other schools won’t approach anything to do with science and maths. Here at CAT you can really talk about physics in a way you can’t at other places.”

Many visitors expressed interest in coming to CAT to study – and Student Support Officer Will, who worked at Ecobuild all three days, talked to a student who just graduated from CAT’s Professional Diploma course this January, and who had actually first heard of our programme at Ecobuild.

Students from all our graduate courses – REBE, Prof Dip, AEES and AEES Distant Learning – volunteered and came to say hello, and enjoyed getting the chance to meet and talk to students on other CAT courses. Those who came to explore Ecobuild tried to attend as many seminars as they could, with generally positive responses. Even the staff got to check out some events – like the final conference on art – and displays – see the photo at the bottom!

Friends of CAT also stopped by to ask about how things have changed at the Centre since their last visit, and to tell their stories of their experience here. With Ecobuild’s focus firmly on the physical – and in some cases, the concrete – the general appreciation of CAT’s message shows its continued ability to inform, enable and inspire.

 

London can feel worlds away from Machynlleth (driving the Ecobuild van there and back was proof of that!) and it’s not always easy to visit. Luckily CAT is sometimes able to come to you. If you’re in the Birmingham area, why not check out our stall at the National Homebuilding and Renovating Show? Tobi Kellner, renewable energy expert, will be speaking every day of the show at 12.15 on wood as an energy source.

 

This display of wool insulation caught many people's eye, and CAT students and staff show their appreciation!

 

 

ZCBlog: reflections on an Ecobuild seminar

If you attended Ecobuild last week (CAT’s review to follow), you know there were almost too many intriguing conferences and seminars to choose from. We didn’t manage to make it to ‘Is this the end of the road for zero carbon?’ but if anyone else did we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. (Our answer is a definite “Not if we can help it!”)

We did manage to get to the final conference of Ecobuild, though, and it was well worth the wait. In ‘Encouraging sustainability through art,’ psychologist Oliver James, The Idler founder Tom Hodgkinson, and artists Sophie Molins and Clare Patey discussed how art can help us overcome our addition to consumerism and work for a healthier planet. Of course, this fits right in with ZCB’s artist in residence project. In this week’s ZCBlog, we’ll talk about some of their arguments and projects we found most exciting.

Coming to terms with climate change

Host Oliver James got things off to a provocative start by calling Britain a society of “credit-fuelled consumer junkies,” but went on to describe how today’s climate challenge is for all of us to accept the facts, and then to tolerate the distress these facts cause us. He then outlined three psychological coping mechanisms, the first of which is denial: climate change isn’t happening, or if it is humans aren’t causing it. The second is maladaptive response, a category most of us fall into: to accept climate change but blunt the feelings of fear, grief, anger, panic and so on with a range of arguments. These include:

  • We’ll fix it through technology, like geoengineering
  • Live in the present, and ignore the scary future
  • Diversionary tactics, i.e. small behavioural changes (“if I recycle then I’m doing my bit”)
  • Blame shifting (“the US and China are the real culprits”)
  • Indifference
  • Unrealistic optimism

The third response, and the only one that leads to effective action, is adaptive coping: to accept climate change, go through the process of mourning, and transition to practical problem solving. The best way to encourage others to cope adaptively, James concludes, is to walk them through their fears gently, and ease them into considering new values.

Stop climate change by doing nothing

One of these new values might be idleness. Tom Hodgkinson spoke about how doing nothing – and thus travelling less, buying less, using less technology, etc. – can mean fewer carbon emissions. At the same time, he argued, we get our good ideas and do our creative thinking when we are at rest.  Setting aside time for this could be crucial to planning for sustainability.

He also offered the idea of permaculture as a model of the ideal lifestyle. Permaculture is an intelligent system that requires less input from the humans running it: minimum effort for maximum output. As we try to reduce energy use, we might turn to ecological solutions like permaculture to guide our thinking.

Is art the answer?

As we craft solutions to carbon emission reduction, should we turn to art to convert people to a particular way ofthinking? Sophie Molins is Art Co-ordinator at Artists Project Earth (APE), a non-profit that uses popular music to raise funds for climate change and social justice causes. Musicians in other countries make remixes of popular songs by artists as diverse as Eminem and Mumford & Sons, and profits from these tracks have funded over 330 projects to date.

While APE tries to raise awareness of our moral and spiritual obligations to stop climate change, Clare Patey’s site-specific work emphasises social engagement and bringing people together – and she is adamant that art should not be didactic. She helped design the Carbon Ration Book,

and organises Feast on the Bridge in London every year to get people involved in the process of food production, consumption and disposal. Another piece she created laid out all the food an average British person would eat in their lifetime, from the thousands of milk bottles drunk to the sheep eaten. Rather than presenting a finish product for people to view, Patey shows the huge transformative power of including people in the creative process.

Overall this conference touched on a whole host of issues about how we limit our emissions and respond to a changing climate. Should we create art, or seek therapy – or just sit at home and play cards? Perhaps we can do all three. Above all, this last conference at Ecobuild was an inspiring glimpse into the way creativity can turn even the of biggest challenges into an opportunity.

 

For your Zero Carbon news, check out the Spring 2013 ZCB Newsletter!